"On the table," he ordered, before she'd even put her bag down.

"Yes, master," she muttered, pulling herself onto the table and laying down without argument.

"Computer, restrain her," Zim ordered again, but Xet sat up quickly, before the computer could snap the restraints around her wrists and ankles.

"Restrain me? What for?"

Zim glared, gesturing sharply for her to lay down. "You can take it in 15-second increments, or all at once. I really don't care."

Xet thought back to earlier in the afternoon. Oh god. Oh god he was serious? She swallowed. "H-How long? Total?"

"I counted 54 seconds before you obeyed. Lay down." She glanced around the room, briefly wondering if she had any chance of escaping her fate. Zim spoke again. "The computer would have you before you could even get to the elevator."

Feeling a bit dizzy and starting to shake, she finally did as she was told, lying down and placing her hands flat on the table to allow the computer to restrain her as previously ordered. She wanted to cry, but refused; she wouldn't give him the satisfaction. Besides, her screams would surely be enough for his amusement.

Zim stepped around behind her head, reaching one gloved hand over to turn her head so she was staring at the ceiling. Another restraint snapped around her forehead, rendering her head immobile.

Then he picked up the probe, making sure she saw it before lowering it, finding the spot he wanted.

"Well? Increments or all at once?" he asked impatiently.

She closed her eyes. "Just get it over with," she answered, voice rough.

"Very well. If you pass out, however, I will pause the clock until you wake up."

She pinched her eyes tight against the impending pain, only to have her eyes shoot open, blind from agony, as the probe made contact with her scalp. The screams came instantly, unbidden, as she fought in vain against her bonds.

Nothing she'd experienced in all her months trapped here, being operated on over and over, often with only sedative and no anesthetic, even came close to comparing to this.

She did black out. Not once. Not twice. Three times. Not just from the pain, but from her inability to scream and breathe at the same time; he'd placed the oxygen mask over her face almost immediately but it could only do so much to help. Still, true to his word, Zim stopped the clock each time she lost consciousness, starting again as soon as she woke up.

When it was over, she lay, shuddering uncontrollably, moaning, unable to shake off the shock. Zim ordered the restraints released; she didn't move. Couldn't. She shivered, twitched. He turned his back to her, studying the monitors where a continuous running scan of her body was displayed.

"I don't think you'll be walking home tonight," he commented. "So I guess you'll be sleeping here."

She wanted to argue, but couldn't get her mouth to work right and only managed an unhappy moan.


Dib had been bothering her all day about the fact that she hadn't come home the night before and had only appeared long enough this morning to change clothes before rushing off again. Consequently, she was particularly on edge when the teacher handed her a note before continuing to her desk at the start of last period.

She read the note, once, then again to let it sink in.

"Great. They want me to see the skool counselor. "Xet balled up the note and threw it violently in the direction of the trashcan.

"Counselor?" Zim looked up from reading over his homework.

"Yeah, you know, a therapist? Like it's not enough the whole student body thinks I'm nuts, now the teachers do, too."

"It's not so bad," Dib commented from his desk behind Xet. "They'll ask a bunch of stupid questions but as long as you tell them what they want to hear they'll pretty much leave you alone."

Xet turned, leveling him with a dirty look. "Was I talking to you?"

Dib frowned. "I'm just trying to help."

"Well don't."

Dib sighed, handing his homework to the student assigned to collect it. "Whatever."

"Yeah, 'whatever'." She turned back to Zim. "Anyway I gotta go, Z—uh, master. I guess I'll see you after skool."

"Don't be late," Zim reminded her; she just nodded as she headed for the door.

As she approached the front of the skool, she wondered just what the counselor could want. It was a bit late to be worried about her grieving her father, after all. Finally she reached the door to the counselor's office, and knocked.

"Come in, Xet!" came an entirely-too-cheerful voice. She opened the door and stepped inside. The man waiting for her stood to greet her. "Hello! Please, take a seat." He gestured to the chairs before his desk before seating himself. "I'm Mr. Manfield. And you, of course, are Xet!"

She sat slowly, frowning at him. "Obviously."

"Great! So from what I gather, you live with Dib, is that right?"

"Unfortunately," she grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Aw, you don't like Dib? He seems like such a nice boy! I talk to him sometimes, too, you know."

"I know."

"So why don't you like Dib, huh?"

She glowered. "He doesn't know how to mind his own business."

"Maybe he's just worried about you."

"Oh, nice," she scoffed. "You've been discussing me with him."

"I didn't say—"

'You didn't have to. What'd he tell you?"

Manfield sighed. "He says you two used to be friends. So what caused the problem between you?"

She glared. "Why ask me? Why not ask Dib if you two are such good buddies."

He sighed again, making notes on a clipboard. "Xet, I'm not your enemy, you know. I'm here to help you."

"I don't need help," she growled.

Manfield was silent a moment, scribbling on his notes. Finally, he spoke again, changing the subject. "Why don't we talk about Zim?"

She paled a bit. "What about him?"

"Well, Dib says you changed a lot while you were... gone... this summer. He seems to think you were staying with Zim?"

She was glaring again. "Yeah, I know, I ran away, I'm an ungrateful bitch. I came back, so can we just drop it?"

"You were gone almost four months. Surely you weren't on the street the entire time."

"Look, I was safe, and that's all you or anyone else needs to know."

"...All right," he finally agreed. "You're back, and that's the important part. Back to Zim, however..."

She groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose. "What about him?"

"Dib seems to think Zim is... well, abusing you."

She leveled him an icy glare. "Really."

"You seem to spend an awful lot of time with him."

"So what? Friends do that."

"Do you have any other friends?"

She was quiet a moment, before admitting, "No."

Manfield sat back in his chair, tapping his chin with his pen. "Why do you think that is, Xet?"

"I'm not exactly a people person."

"But you were friends with Dib," he pointed out.

"Until he became an insufferable ass, yeah." The counselor was silent a moment, writing in his notes. Xet frowned, wondering what he was writing, but certainly wasn't going to volunteer anything she wasn't asked about. Finally, he spoke again.

"Are you and Zim... how do I put this... an item?"

She stared at him. "...What?"

"I mean to say, are the two of you... you know, intimate?"

She choked, her face flushing as she realized what he was asking. "Are you asking if Zim and I—EW! The hell is wrong with you? I'm twelve! And he's—he's—" she caught herself before spilling too much about her alien overlord, finally just finishing, "EW!"

He kept pushing, calmly. "You can tell me the truth, Xet. I'm not here to judge."

She stood, angrily pounding on his desk with both fists. "NO, ZIM AND I ARE NOT HAVING SEX, YOU FUCKING PERVERT!" She needed to calm down, as a familiar burn in her lungs was starting to threaten. But she was too angry.

Manfield sat back in his chair, not entirely having expected such an outburst. He held his hands up, palms out, in supplication. "O-Okay, Xet, calm down. It was only a question. I'm just trying to get a full picture of what's going on with you." But she wouldn't be so easily quieted.

"WHAT'S 'GOING ON WITH ME' IS PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE CONSTANTLY UP IN MY BUSINESS!" She wheezed, for a moment closing her eyes to catch her breath.

"Xet, I'm just doing my job. Please stop shouting at me and calm down." Finally she sat down in a huff, catching her breath while very nearly glaring a hole through the man, her arms once again crossed over her chest. "I'm sorry I offended you, Xet."

"Whatever," she growled, still seething.

"So you and Zim are just friends."

"Glad you finally figured that out," she grumbled.

"...So why do you call him 'master'?" She didn't really know how to answer that one. She glanced away, studying the pencil can on the counselor's desk. "...Xet?" he prodded gently, sensing he'd touched on a sensitive subject.

"I just do."

"Xet, there must be a reason."

She sighed, frustrated. "He likes me to call him that."

Manfield considered that for a moment, before, "...Are you sure he doesn't make you call him that?"

"Of course not," she answered, a bit too softly. "Zim doesn't make me do anything. We're just friends. Can I go yet?"

"Not yet. So is it some sort of game you're playing with Zim, then? Like Dib pretends Zim is an alien?"

She rolled her eyes, still not looking at him. "Yeah, that's it. It's a game."

Manfield studied her for a moment before jotting something in his notes. "Xet, while there's nothing wrong with still playing pretend at your age, I just don't think this 'master' business is very healthy."

"Opinion noted," she replied dryly.

"What would happen if you just started calling him 'Zim' again?"

'You don't want to know, she thought bitterly. Out loud, she admitted, "He'd probably be pissed."

"...Would he hurt you?"

"Of course not!" she snapped, a little too quickly. Manfield raised an eyebrow.

"Xet, please, be honest with me. Would Zim hurt you if you stopped calling him 'master'?"

"No," she glared at him, knowing the exact opposite was true. "Zim won't hurt me."

"What about yesterday in the hallway? What happened then?"

"That was nothing." And, compared to his earlier, and especially his later, punishments, it really hadn't been. "We were just... playing."

Manfield was clearly not convinced. "From what I've heard, it was awfully rough 'playing'."

"It usually is," she muttered.

"Is Zim bullying you into this 'game'?"

Her eyes narrowed, though she still wasn't looking at him. "No."

He jotted something in his notes. "I think I'll be having a talk with Zim anyway."

She sighed. "You do that."

"Well, our time is about up for now. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about? Maybe your parents?"

She glowered. "I do not want to talk about my parents. I didn't want to talk to you in the first place."

He nodded, all-too-calmly. "All right, then. I'll inform your last period teacher; I'd like to talk to you again next week, all right?" He was right back to his earlier cheerful demeanor.

"Do I have a choice?"

He didn't answer, merely standing and extending his hand for her to shake. She took it warily. "This time next week, then!"

She dropped his hand. "Whatever."

The bell rang, and Xet escaped from the room, hurrying to meet Zim.